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Female Pirates

Author: Krzysztof Wilczynski

We may never know how many female pirates roamed the seas in the XVI and XVII century. We do know that in order for a female pirate to become a successful rogue she had to disguise herself as a man. This was the case because the piratical code usually forbade women pirate members on board, and certainly precluded them – as was customary in those centuries in general - from any combat role. While such rules prevented numerous fights between male crew over female companions, they were also enforced in the case of any woman pirate crew member. Despite these oppressive circumstances, we know female pirates found success on the high seas as pirates. These women pirates were truly exceptional in their determination and character to seek out their fortunes in what was a very dangerous way of life in an exclusively male dominated occupation. It should also be mentioned that to succeed on any ship, and especially an undermanned pirate ship, women pirates had to display exceptional strength, agility and physical stamina to earn a share of the gold among the greedy pirates who would use any excuse to exclude a pirate woman crew member out of their plunder for incomplete ship work. A pirate woman needed to be an exceptional actress and needed above average intelligence in order to successfully outsmart her crafty vagabond companions as to her sex. A female pirate, though often destitute and without family or friends, nevertheless did not lack the courage or ability necessary for a piratical career that was most certainly reserved for men.

No matter what we think about the ethical and moral side of XVI and XVII century piracy it was considered a very profitable occupation with strong romantic appeal. Many pirates plundered foreign merchant ships while legally protected by royal authority. So it should be no wonder that strong women pirates with an entrepreneurial spirit were drawn to the piratical profession. Female pirates were sometimes stronger in their determination and more courageous than many of their male pirate shipmates. Anne Bonny, an infamous pirate woman, was considered a formidable fighter and sought after for her fighting prowess during the most daring pirate attacks. Mary Reed, another female pirate, actively participated in ship boarding and hand to hand combat. Grace O’Malley, an infamous Irish pirate woman, - commanded three pirate ships all with exclusively male crews. If any of the crew members dared to object to serving under the leadership of a female pirate, they would certainly meet an early demise. With time, as with other professions during the 17th and 18th centuries, the idea of a pirate woman gained acceptance thanks to pioneering female pirate crew members.

Although female pirates were not the first women to engage in soldiering (see Joan of Arc) women pirates were clearly proving that despite immense psychological, legal and physical obstacles they were able to lead the life they have chosen and be equal or better than their male companions. Thus, women pirates served on pirate ships, piratical code notwithstanding. Simply put, pirate women were too great an asset for a pirate crew to ignore.


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